MONTREAL — With a post-season spot assured and four games to spare, CF Montreal has turned its attention to securing home-field advantage in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Montreal (16-9-5) secured its first playoff appearance since advancing to the semifinals in 2016 with a dramatic equalizer from Zachary Brault-Guillard in the fifth minute of stoppage time in a 2-2 draw with Columbus on Friday. The club enters Tuesday's game against the visiting Chicago Fire in second place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.
First-place Philadelphia (18-4-9) is 10 points ahead of Montreal and likely to earn the conference's bye into the second round. The other teams that finish in the top four will host their first-round opponents.
"We accomplished out first objective, so now we have to push for the top four and ideally stay in the top two," said head coach Wilfried Nancy. “We wanted to challenge Philadelphia but they look to be out of reach. Aside from that we just have to focus on keeping our strong form and go into the playoffs playing our best soccer."
Montreal has had anything but easy games in the run-up to the post-season, and Chicago will provide more of the same.
The Fire (9-13-8) are on the outside of the playoff race looking in and have been struggling of late — winning only one of their last six games.
But they are starting to find success on the road, collecting eight points from their last five away games. Montreal could find a complicated opponent Tuesday as its home form has taken a dip recently.
There are still only eight points separating fifth and 13th place in the Eastern Conference, and it's likely the final standings until the end of the regular season, opening up the East to all manner of possibilities and matchups.
"It's important to show resiliency (in these last few game) and be ready for the playoffs and these last few games of the season," said Montreal defender Kamal Miller. “Whoever we draw with is going to be a strong team. Every team has presented different challenges this season and brought different styles in us."
Montreal enter Tuesday's game a comfortable 11 points up on fifth-place Orlando but need four points to lock up a top-four position and cannot clinch against the Fire.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2022.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press